Home of ‘Lackawanna 6’ also home to terror victim

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (AP) _ Yemeni-Americans in this upstate New York city have seen terrorism from two sides. On Wednesday, one of their own was a victim of global violence, killed with her new husband when terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Six years ago, six young men from this former steel town on the shore of Lake Erie were charged with supporting Osama bin Laden’s terror network. That Wednesday’s victim, 18-year-old Susan Elbaneh, was related to a seventh man accused of training with al-Qaida stirred at once feelings of grief and frustration. Grief over the loss of a well-liked young woman just as a new chapter of her life was beginning. Susan Elbaneh had traveled to Yemen to be married and planned to return to western New York with her husband, finish high school and go to college to become a nurse. And frustration at the inevitable connection in the public eye to her cousin, Jaber Elbaneh, 42, who is wanted as the seventh member of the conspiracy to support a terrorist organization and is reportedly in Yemeni custody. “There are other images conjured up which really have nothing to do with this innocent young woman,” said Peter Hazzan, principal of Lackawanna High School, where Susan was an outgoing and popular student. “People are sensitive to that, as you can well expect.” Susan Elbaneh was the only American among 17 people killed in the embassy attack. “Like the people killed in 9/11, people killed in terrorist acts all over the place, we’re the same victims,” said a cousin, Shokey Elbaneh. Grieving relatives who spoke about Susan soon after learning of her death chafed at questions about Jaber, saying Susan, who was 11 when he left Lackawanna, had nothing to do with him. Jaber Elbaneh did not return to Lackawanna after allegedly training with al-Qaida and was later convicted of planning attacks on oil installations in Yemen. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi said the country’s constitution bars it from handing over Jaber Elbaneh. The issue has strained relations between the U.S. and Yemen. The 2002 arrests of the group that became known as the “Lackawanna Six” cast a light on the small city and its strong Yemeni community. Along with law enforcement came throngs of reporters, all looking for insight into how a blue-collar city had given rise to a potential terror cell. The case, which ended with all six men in federal prison, put the city’s Muslim-Americans on the defensive. For some, hard feelings linger. “I’m fed up with reporters,” a clerk behind the counter of a Lackawanna deli said Thursday when asked about Susan Elbaneh. It seems news about Muslims is always bad, said the clerk, who would not give his name. “It kills morale.” Months after the Lackawanna Six arrests, three more Lackawanna men âÄî Susan Elbaneh’s father, Ali Elbaneh, her uncle, Mohamed Albanna and Albanna’s nephew, Ali Albanna âÄî were charged with operating an unlicensed money transfer business that sent $5.5 million from Buffalo to Yemen between 1999 and 2002. The three were convicted and sentenced in 2006. Ali Elbaneh, who prosecutors said had little to do with the business, was given six months of home confinement. The others received prison terms. Such money-transmitting businesses, which have operated in the Middle East for generations, were widely targeted after the Sept. 11 attacks to thwart potential terror funding, though authorities never said the business run by Mohamed Albanna was involved in that. None of that mattered Thursday as Hazzan, the school principal, planned a Friday memorial service for Susan Elbaneh. “It’s unfortunate that we have to tie the family background in,” he said. “This girl had nothing to do with terrorism or any of the politics of the Middle East.”